Thursday, 31 July 2008

Christian The Lion

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Take a look at this video…




An amazing story, don’t you think? One that should never have happened because Harrods should never have sold exotic, wild animals in the first place, but they did and the video shows that an extraordinary bond can be created between man and one of the most dangerous wild animals on the planet. Even George Adamson, of 'born free' fame and the man who re-introduced Christian to Africa had never seen anything like it.

Lions, of course, do not belong in our living rooms, back gardens or driving around in Bentleys, as Christian did while he was living in ‘the lap of luxury’ with his owners. Thankfully, its now illegal to sell and keep wild animals as pets but until the ban in 1976, keeping lions, pumas, leopards and other big cats was quite popular.

Unfortunately, after the ban was introduced, few actually tried to have their pets re-introduced to the areas where they belonged, releasing them instead in the UK countryside. Even today there are regular sightings of big cats in various areas and as late as in 2000 a young boy was attacked by a “leopard like” animal in Monmouthshire. Apparently, sightings in the highlands of Scotland have become common occurrences. It's believed that these sightings could have a direct connection with the 70's mania for keeping such animals.

In Africa, the number of lions has fallen by around 70% during the last decade alone leaving no more than around 16,500 of these magnificant creatures. Every year, over 600 are illegally hunted and killed as ‘trophies’ and illicit trading in lions still goes on. Habitat loss and the depletion of their natural prey has also taken its toll of them. Many are still kept under dreadful conditions in poorly managed zoos, circuses etc.

Man has a choice as to whether or not our species will have a chance of long-term survival; the animals we share the planet with do not. What we ruin for ourselves we also ruin for them and as I’ve always said: “mess up your own life if you want do, but don’t mess up others’ lives for them.”

Surely we owe it to those creatures who can’t make their own choices to do what we can to help keep the world a beautiful place where we can all happily survive?

Sharon J

For more information about Christian the Lion, see:
Wikepedia Entry
Daily Mail Story
The Born Free Foundation


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Wednesday, 30 July 2008

This Green and Fertile Land



A friend’s neighbour recently gave his garden a bit of a revamp, like you do from time to time. The new design has now left the garden mostly covered in slate chippings where there was once lawn and while I personally preferred it how it was, I can understand his choice. Lawns demand water, fertilizer and a lot of TLC if they’re to look half decent, whereas the slated area is very low-maintenance. There was one thing I had a problem with though; he removed and DUMPED a lot of top soil.

Good soil is actually a precious commodity. This beautiful planet of ours is actually losing fertile soil at a rate of somewhere between 10 and 20 times faster than its able to replenish itself. Think about that. For every square meter of top soil we dig over, up to 20 square meters are disappearing somewhere in the world - soil that is vital for the production of food. And then some people go and dump it amongst hardcore and other stuff where it won’t be of much use to us at all.

Soil takes a long time to develop into the kind of stuff that plants like to grow in. Weeds and other less fussy plants, insects and worms all need to do their bit by living in or near the soil, dying and then rotting down in it before the nutrients can develop enough for most food plants, whether food for us humans or for the wildlife share the planet with. And we’re not just talking ten, twenty or even a hundred years here - we talking tens of thousands of years just to make about 6 inches of good topsoil.

During the time it takes to develop decent soil, a lot gets washed away and the sun’s parching effect depletes it of nutrients, slowing down the process. In some parts of the world, soil just doesn’t get the chance to develop and although there’s plenty of unused ground around, it just isn’t able to support plant life.

Apparently, soil has been disappearing at an increased rate during the past 50 years, and there are no signs of it slowing down. This isn’t just through natural causes either - man has left his mark through hundreds of years of poor soil management and now we’re paying the price.

Greed has been the cause of much of the problem. We wanted as much as possible from as little as possible so mono-culture became ‘the thing’. Year after year, the same crops were planted on the same land - cotton, corn, tea, opium poppies, potatoes, etc - while we sat back and enjoyed the profits of the bounty. When the ground became so depleted that it no longer produced a decent yield, we simply moved on to other areas leaving the barren wasteland behind us and did the same thing all over again. What’s more - it’s still happening, only now we’re running out of ‘new areas’ to cultivate. Corn, especially, is still being mono-cultivated in order to produce animal feed and fuel (ethanol).

And then some people go and dump top soil!

It’s all very well and good to say “we don’t have a problem here - what’s the difference whether it’s under my lawn or on the landfill?” but the WORLD has a problem. If we don’t stop abusing our resources we WILL have a food crisis, and I don’t just mean food costing a few pence more in the shops either! There are enough starving people in this world as it is, mostly thanks to the greed of the prosperous, and without enough fertile land to support food production, the problem will only increase.

Sure, we can say “bung fertilizer on it”, but that’s too easy an answer. Natural fertilizers won’t be plentiful enough to improve the amount of soil we’d need and we just don’t know enough about the long-term use of chemical fertilizers (by long-term I mean longer than we’re able to test them for). What we do know is that the Mexican Gulf already has a ‘dead zone’ thanks to fertilizers being washed into it and anyway, chemical fertilizer’s made from natural gas, and that’s not going to last forever either.

My garden is full of clay and ‘builder’s rubble’, making it incredibly difficult to cultivate. I’d love to plant fruit and vegetables and lots of pretty, nectar rich flowers but to get it into the condition it’d need to be in first would mean far too much work for me. And top soil’s expensive.

I felt like crying when my friends told me about the ‘soil dumping’ episode. If only he'd 'chucked it' my way instead but I can only assume that he didn't know better.

Sharon J

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Tuesday, 29 July 2008

BBQs - An Eco Friendly Way of Preparing Food?



Now that we’ve actually been able to enjoy some real summer weather, people all over the country have been flocking to the shops to buy stuff for their barbeque. Meat, salads, charcoal, fire lighters, dousing liquids, throw-away one-time-use barbeques and more. A year ago I would have been amongst them and wouldn’t have given a thought to the environmental impact.

I love a good barbie as much as the next person, especially as I spent so long in a country where BBQ-ing is almost a summer sport, but this time I’ve stopped and given some thought to what I’m doing (it's amazing how often I've done that since starting to train my brain to actually think first!).

For one, I don’t have an outdoor grill and as I can’t afford a decent one at the moment, I thought I’d just buy a couple of throw-away ones so that we could at least have a taste of outdoor cooking this year. But hold on…. Stop there, Sharon! Throw-away? You don’t do ‘throw away’ anymore! Forget that one. Right, off I went in search of a cheap ‘proper’ grill. I found one for around 12 quid but on closer inspection of the box, discovered that it was made somewhere in Asia. Hmm… loads of carbon miles and no doubt made available to us through exploitating cheap labour. No thanks, I'll just put that one back. Further perusal of the aisles of several shops turned up one that was produced in Germany and selling at around £50 but that, I’m afraid, was well outside of my budget. Oh well… I’ll just have to wait until next year. I'll survive.

It doesn’t stop there though. While browsing the many barbeques on offer, I wondered why so many people are still buying the gas fired types. Haven’t they read the newspapers? Don’t they know that gas isn’t going to last forever and that a charcoal grill has to be a better alternative? Or is it, I wondered.

Apparently, using charcoal isn’t as great as it sounds either, because a whopping 97 percent of the grilling charcoal consumed in Britain comes from NON-sustainable forests, a lot of which is from our rain forests and is contributing to the deforestation problem. Not good. Not good at all.

On top of that, briquettes, which are the most popular form of grilling charcoal, are often doused in petroleum solvents. I know that probably won’t make a humungous difference to the oil problem but it certainly isn’t good for us to be breathing in the fumes. When I think back at how many times I’ve sat coughing because of the smoke I’ve breathed in, smoke that tastes of petrol! Not only is it bad for our respiratory system, it also irritates the eyes and can apparently cause some long term damage to them. And if the briquettes aren’t ready doused, people buy petroleum based firelighters or squirt lighter fluid all over them instead.

So what’s a girl to do? Am I doomed to never enjoy a BBQ again?

The best solution, it seems, is to buy a grill that’s been manufactured in a country as close to the UK as possible and then use only British charcoal that’s made from properly managed native woodland doused in as little lighter fluid as possible. Eco charcoal may well cost a bit more than the cheap and nasty stuff, but frugality and simplicity aren’t about cutting costs at all costs, they’re about cutting costs where we can and should. This is one area where we shouldn’t.

Eco-charcoal’s available at Tesco, Sainsbury’s, B&Q and some Co-Op stores. You may well find it elsewhere and there may be some branches of the above that don’t carry it, but at least that gives you something to be working on.

Next year I shall have my BBQ ready in spring because it’s going to be a beautiful summer. I can feel it in my water. Please don’t disillusion me… dreams are important :)

Sharon J

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Monday, 28 July 2008

Update Re Theft

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I’m sure those of you who found the time to offer support to LM and myself through the comments and emails will be glad to know that last night a very nice (polite and empathetic as well as tall, dark and handsome) policeman returned her handbag.

Apparently it’d been found in some bushes about 500 yards from where she works and handed in, albeit minus her driver’s license, bank card, student discount cards - although she’s no longer officially a student but no doubt the thieves will be picking up ’their’ discounts - and other bits and bobs. Amazingly, the keys were still in it though!

HURRAH!!!!!

And whoever took it had left one card in her purse (removed absolutely everything else) with her name on it. Maybe they thought they’d leave it so that there would be a chance of it being returned to her? Why otherwise leave just that one?

We’re both VERY relieved that the keys are back home, safe and sound. We can breath out and wave bye-bye to the hassle of getting a new car, getting a quote for the locks, switching the insurance, transferring the tax and so forth. I’m amazed though, that whoever took it didn’t put two and two together and realise that they car key must fit the only car that was parked ‘out back’ that day though. They could so easily have had that away!

She doesn't want to pursue the matter with her company any more; she just wants to get on with her work, save and go to Norway. Fair enough, although I still think a proper apology from the manager for leaving the back door open would be in order. She has, however, emailed head office and reported it.

The least they could do now is reinstall the lockers. They had them until a couple of months ago when they were removed because 'they were taking up too much room'!

Oddly enough, yesterday morning she mentioned that about half an hour before she discovered her bag had gone, she’d been thinking “I’m lucky to never have had anything stolen” and wondered whether she may have been thinking that at the very time the thief was half-inching her stuff. I suggested that maybe her guardian angel was sending her a message, as I believe they often do, but that she wasn’t picking it up clearly. She then asked her angel to bring the key safely back to her. Coincidence? Maybe. The work of her angel? Maybe. There’s more to life than we can pick up with our five accepted senses…. or so I believe.

Sharon J

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And The Award Goes To…

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I’ve been given two awards recently by people who enjoy this blog.

I’m not usually into the “hey, look what I won” culture but I do think it’s kind of cool to know that the work I’ve been putting into keeping up with my daily posts and sharing what I’m learning and have learned is being appreciated so a huge thank you goes to Chris at “My Peggy Peg” and to Dom at “Shabby Shac”.

First up was Chris’s award.



This was actually given to me a while back but I never got around to sorting it out. There always seemed to be something else I had to be getting on with. Sorry, Chris. It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate it.

The second to be presented was Dom’s.


I was given this one just a few days ago so I’ve actually been quite efficient this time. It came with a note saying that it should be passed on to x number of other bloggers who have inspired me but I can’t remember how many and I’m too damned lazy to go back and find out.
I’ll just pass it on to the following:

Notes From The Frugal Trenches” - a relatively young woman’s journey (that's relative to a middle-aged, worn out old wellington boot like me) towards a more frugal lifestyle that will give her a more sustainable future. Many a beautifully written, inspirational post.

Gavin at “The Greening of Gavin” - an Australian blogger who shares why he chose to live a more sustainable lifestyle and how he does it. I love his friendly, casual style, even though his posts are often about subjects that are far from casual.

Jack at “Adventure in Voluntary Simplicity” - a guy who’s been living the ‘high life’ but has discovered that there’s a better road happiness and satisfaction. His style is refreshingly honest and for that alone the man deserves respect.

Sara at “On Simplicity” - one of the most beautifully written blogs I visit. This lady knows what she’s talking about and says it most eloquently.

Debi at “Debi Alper” - a writer and wonderfully honest person who often writes short but thought provoking posts.

Catz at “Catz Corner” - the everyday goings on of one woman’s journey towards a more environmentally friendly and frugal lifestyle (and she’s a great car-boot bargain hunter!)

I’m sorry if I’ve missed you out, but y’know how it is… there are loads of brilliant blogs and making a choice isn’t easy. I may be into de-cluttering, but de-cluttering my blogroll isn’t going to happen. Not yet, anyhow.

If you’ve been nominated, apparently you can either just accept the award and then go away and forget all about it, or you can display it on your blog and pass it along to some others.

Thanks again, Chris and Dom.

Sharon J xx

UPDATE: Today, 30th July, I was nominated for the Brilliante Weblog award for the second time, this time by 'Home Matters Most'.

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Sunday, 27 July 2008

Theft



Yesterday afternoon my daughter’s handbag was stolen from her work place. It was hanging in the staff room (they’re not allowed to have their personal belongings at the tills) and somebody came in through the back door, that the manager had left open, and had it away.

In the bag was her purse, driver’s licence, bank card, a pack of cigarettes, a few till receipts and her keys. The purse contained £1.15 in cash.

To renew her driver’s licence it will cost £17.50. The bank have told her that a new card will be issued within 5-7 days. The keys, however, pose a problem.

She has just the one key to her car. When she first bought it she enquired about having a new key made to keep at home ‘just in case’ but it would cost £70, money she really couldn’t afford. Corsas, apparently, have special keys that are only available from a Vauxhall dealer.

Her car is now stood at the back of her work place and her manager is telling her that it has to be moved. She can’t move it and try as I might to get a recovery company out to her, nobody had the time. That, when we do eventually find one who will do it, will cost about another sixty quid.

She enquired with Vauxhall about having the locks changed (the only way of getting a new key) but was told that the cost would be so high that it wouldn’t be worth it on such an old car. It’s not worth more than a few hundred pounds now but without it she’s stuck as she can’t get to work and back. She starts at 7am some days and finishes at 11pm on others. She’d need two buses and they just don’t start early enough from here, or come back late enough, to be of any use to her.

She has no available funds as everything she has is in her savings for moving to Norway in September. She absolutely needs every penny because she has no idea how long it will take before she can get a job there and she’s got to survive in the meantime. She really can’t use that money.

The only answer is for me to dip into my kitchen savings and either a) pay to have the locks changed or b) buy another car. I think the latter is the better alternative. At least if we junk this one and I buy another, I can sell it when she moves and get some of my money back. If I change the locks, the car still won’t be worth more than £200-300 in September, and I’ll have probably paid that much to get it sorted, leaving me with a greater loss. And even though she’s offered to pay me back anything I lose, it’ll have to be in instalments because she’s not liable to have much money while she’s establishing herself in Norway, so my kitchen will need to be postponed even further.

Basically, the gits who stole her bag have caused her a lot of trouble sorting out a driver’s licence, having her card stopped, and worrying about how she’ll get to work, as well as potentially costing her several hundred pounds. All for the sake of £1.15, because that’s really all they got out of it. If only these people realised just what the consequences of their selfish actions were, but maybe they do and don’t care. I don’t know.

What’s more, her manager doesn’t seem to think that the company she works for have any responsibility towards this. I’ve told her to make further enquiries and if she has no joy, I shall contact them and ask why somebody (the manager for leaving the door open?) isn’t being held accountable. And while the forecourt has CCTV cameras pointing every which way, there are none at the back of the building. She may not have lost much directly from her bag, but indirectly she certainly has.

I do believe that things happen for a reason so maybe one day we’ll understand the lesson that had to be learned through this or see that it lead her towards a path she otherwise wouldn’t have taken. And although I’m not generally one for revenge, I hope one day that whoever did this experiences something similar themselves if that’ll help them learn just how selfish theft is.

Why can’t people just keep their dirty dabs off of others’ property?

Sharon J

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Saturday, 26 July 2008

Must We Always Answer Our Phones?



When I was growing up, few of my friends had house phones and mobiles were yet to be deeveloped. Nowadays, everybody seems to have at least one phone in some form or another and we all seem to be expected to be available at any given time.

I’ve no idea how many times my mobile’s gone off while I’m visiting with friends, having dinner in a pub, or standing in a supermarket checkout queue. My house phone has rung while I’m up to my elbows in washing, have my hands full of dough, or am in the middle of eating dinner. Yet time after time the caller has refused to respect that I didn’t want to or couldn’t talk right then. “Just let me tell you about…” seems to be the standard response to my “I can’t talk right now”.

I find it rude when my guests spend 10-15 minutes or more on the phone while I’m sat there like a dumb banana twiddling my thumbs and hearing half a conversation. In fact I once had I guest spend more than an hour on her mobile, talking to her other half who she'd be seeing the next day anyway!

When I’m socialising, I concentrate on those I’m socialising with, not those who are making unnecessary demands on my time and I expect other reasonably sensible people to do the same.

Do we really believe we’re so important that we have to take every call? Do others really have a right to demand our time in any situation?

Phones obviously have a place in our modern society but the fact that the UK has 115 mobile phones for every 100 inhabitants* (and we're talking the civilian network here - business phones aren't included) says a lot about how important we think it is that we should be contactable at any time and in any place. When Lise arrived for a visit I had no idea which number she'd be contactable on because she has THREE! One that she sends texts with, one that she calls with, and one "just in case...". I have enough trouble finding my single phone half of the time so how I'd get on with three is anybody's guess.

It’s years now since I’ve been dependant on answering the phone. If it isn’t suitable to talk - and that could be just because I don’t feel like talking - I don’t answer it. I figure that if it’s important they’ll either leave a message or text me; if they don’t then they couldn’t have wanted to get hold of me that badly. Nowadays, being less dependant on my phone helps keep my life simple. I'm not stressed by a ringing phone that I'm unable to answer in the way some people are.

Some say I’m being ignorant and selfish by ignoring a ringing telephone but I say I’m protecting my right to privacy. We do still have that right, don’t we?

Sharon J

* Source: Eurostat

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Friday, 25 July 2008

A Can is A Can, Whichever Way


Photo: MrTickle


My recycling bin gets emptied today.

My two daughters and Lise's boyfriend have, between them, managed to get through so many cans of drink (Carlsberg, Red Bull, Pepsi... you name it, they've probably had it) in just one week that my normally half full recycling bin has been full since Tuesday. I was gobsmacked by the fact that three people alone could produce that much aluminium waste so decided to have a nosey around the 'Net to see what would actually happen to all those cans.

A lot of us use aluminium cans – and by that I mean those used for beer and fizzy drinks, not the tin cans that soup, dog food and that sort of thing come in – at some point. Some of us only use them very occasionally, others use them on a daily basis. And guess what? I’m not gonna preach and say “stop using them”. Ok, so it would be best if we never used them but as they’re one of the waste products we produce that are easiest to recycle, there’s no reason to feel mega guilty about them or render people working in the industry jobless.

Apparently, once cans are sorted from our recycling bins, they’re pressed into huge bales and sent off for melting. Their decoration is then stripped off through a burning process before they’re moved into high temperature furnaces where they’re melted along with previously unused aluminium. The molten metal is then cooled and rolled into thin sheets ready to become new cans. And best of all, the whole process from the cans being picked up at the kerbside to being ready to refill takes just 60 days. That’s efficient recycling.

The downside of using drinks cans is this – if you don’t recycle them but throw them in the general household waste bin or, worse, chuck them along roadside verges, in woodland, fields and similar, they’ll still be there in 300 years time! Can you imagine somebody who’s one of your descendants by 18 generations cutting himself on a rusty can that you once threw away? That’s like you being hurt by something that somebody threw away in 1708! Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Certainly there are still original cans laying about that date from the 1950s when they were first introduced in the UK. What’s more, aluminium can leech into the ground (where we grow our food) and waterways and as its been connected with Alzheimers disease, every can that isn’t recycled is a potential toxic hazard.

Another interesting fact is that if every can sold in the UK were sent for recycling, there would be 14 million fewer general waste bins to empty every year. That alone gives a darned good indication of just how many cans we use.

Another interesting point that I picked up is that the production of virgin cans (no, that doesn't mean cans made by one of Richard Branson's companies and neither does it have anything to do with sex) leaves a HUGE footprint while recycling a can uses just 5% of that energy.

At the moment we’re recycling around 30% of aluminium cans here in the UK so we could do a lot better. Before people throw a can anywhere other than into the recycling bin, I wish they'd ask themselves whether they're really happy for it to hang around the environment for hundreds of years, harming wildlife and potentially humans. Is that really too much to expect?

Sharon J

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children. ~Native American Proverb


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Thursday, 24 July 2008

Sales - Are They For The Frugally Minded?

“Offer must end soon” - “One day only” - “While stocks last!" - "Final Clearance"

I went into town a few days ago and there were sales everywhere. Huge stickers were plastered across windows full of items at what appeared to be hugely slashed prices. Clothes, furniture, cosmetics, curtains - you name it, it was on sale.

I didn't buy a thing other than what I went in for. Plastic beakers for our picnic that are good enough to last for years at 77p for four. I bought eight.

Sales are designed to separate us and our money. They tempt us into buying stuff NOW because if we wait, we’ll miss that fantastic bargain. They don’t want us to have a cooling off period while we think about how much we really want or need the item in question, they want us to flash that credit card and walk out of the store carrying with us what might, if we’re lucky, give us a few days of pleasure. If we’re really unlucky, it’ll give us a lot of regret when the credit card bill arrives and we’ve had time to realise that the new sofas didn’t quite fit in with our room design, or the dress that looked fantastic in the shop emphasises every lump and bump.

In order to make use of sales, you have to be very confident about what you need and whether or not this particular item is the right one. Unfortunately, few of us are actually that confident and most have experience of gadgets, clothes, ornaments etc that have spent most of their lives hiding away in the darkest corners of our cupboards. I know I have - I’ve chucked out enough of them during my de-cluttering process.

Luckily some of us learn not to fall for it, even if it's the hard way.

Sharon J

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Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Simple and Frugal Outings That Will Keep The Kids Amused




With the school summer holidays looming, knowing how to keep the kids occupied without having to spend a fortune isn't always easy.

Like many hundreds of thousands of others, I’ve been to Alton Towers with the kids, bought a games console, and spent far too much on cinema visits. I’ve done lots of other things that have cost an arm and a leg too, but all that was a long time ago and during a period where I, for reasons that I no longer understand, thought that they had to have and do the things that other kids had or were doing. It's that old 'keeping up with the Jones's' syndrome.

I was wrong. Those things haven’t played any part in shaping them into the adults they are today. Sure, they were fun at the time, but they haven’t given them any lasting memories or taught them much worth knowing. Those things have come through the simple things we’ve enjoyed together - the things that hardly cost much at all.

If you’re looking for ways of entertaining the kids on a budget, here are a few ideas.

1. Take a walk in the countryside. My kids used to love picking wild flowers that they'd later press, and collect twigs, cones, leaves and such to make into things or stick on cards. They'd try to spot wildlife, whether birds, mammals, reptiles or insects, and look for berries and wild fruit. This opens up for another opportunity - you can go to the library together and find out more about what you’ve picked or seen.

2. Use your local park. Most towns have one but if they aren’t used often enough by enough people, they’ll eventually disappear. They’re often inhabited by squirrels and even though grey squirrels are classed as vermin, kids love feeding them and park squirrels are often bold enough to approach us two-legged giants.

3. Play board games or cards. As well as bringing the family together, these teach children how to be gracious winners and accepting losers, something they often miss out on otherwise.

4. Go camping. It’s cheap, it’s fun and everybody learns to pull together for it to be successful. My kids had more fun camping than on any other type of holiday and just a night in a tent can be lots of fun.

5. Visit a beach that isn’t attached to a tourist hot-spot. That way you won’t be seduced into buying all sorts of useless rubbish and there will be a better chance of spotting wildlife, finding shells and bits of driftwood, not to mention burying Mum or Dad in the sand.

6. Go fishing. You don’t need fancy, expensive equipment - just a simple rod, reel, line, hooks and suitable bait will generally do the trick. You’ll need a license but unless you’re after salmon or trout, a full season’s license costs £24.50 for an adult and £5 for juniors (12-16). Under 12s won’t need one. More information can be found here. My girls learned to gut and prepare fish as well as how to kill them humanely, things that are far more useful than knowing how to press the right button on a computer console so that they can blow up a human enemy.

7. Visit museums. Your kids may think this sounds pretty boring but there are a lot of fun museums around. Science museums usually have special areas for children where they can try things hands on (this was one of my children’s favourites), and some history based museums are a lot of fun too as some give kids a real feel for what it was like to go to school, work and play in ‘the old days’. Follow this link for a list of UK museums.

8. Use the library. Local libraries often arrange a variety of events that appeal to all ages so next time you’re passing by, pop in and pick up their events leaflet. Most are either free or cost no more than a few pounds.

9. Visit your local swimming pool. If you’re lucky to have one nearby, swimming is good fun and exercise for all the family.

10. Arrange local get-togethers. Just think of how the old street parties used to bring communities together. Talk to neighbours and/or other parents at the school gates and ask whether they’d like to get together for a picnic in the park, a barbeque evening, or whatever else you can think up. The children get to spend more time with other kids and you get to know other parents better.

11. Make something. Crafts help children develop their creativity and imaginations whilst teaching them that you make things yourself instead of buying everything. Teaching them how to cook is always fun and useful too.

12. And once the kids are tucked up for the night, have sex. Why give your hard earned money to babysitters and pub landlords when you can enjoy a glass of wine with your partner in bed, instead?

While the occasional visit to the cinema, a theme park or, better still, the zoo, are all fine in small doses and as long as your purse can take the strain, it’s perfectly possible to keep a family entertained without having to throw large amounts of money around and the results will probably be far more valuable.

We're off on a picnic in Delamere Forest today. My kids may be adults now but they're my guests at the moment and I still have to keep them happy without breaking the bank.

Sharon J

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Tuesday, 22 July 2008

If Paper Waste Were a Person, Mine Would Be Obese



I really must stop being so fastidious about perfect hand-written copy.

If I make a list and the margin’s too wonky, I tear it up and start again.

If I copy down a recipe and the page doesn’t tear neatly from the pad, I tear it up and start again.

If I jot down notes, I’ll re-write them ‘tidily’ before I file them.

I can’t re-use the paper because I hate writing on something that’s already been written on. And all those loose pages just seem like clutter to me.

And woe betide if I make a spelling mistake!

I guess it’s the autism in me kicking in. They say we all have it to some degree. It all seems a bit OCD-ish to me and it actually gets on my nerves. I get fed-up rewriting stuff.

What’s more, I actually think a folder full of quickly jotted down recipes on the back of an old envelope and the likes is far more interesting to look through than one where every page is neatly written on the same size paper and with the same style of heading, etc. How totally lacking in personality!

I really want to try changing this. I think about the trees that have been chopped down just to satisfy my need to bin page after page of writing paper. I think about how I could be spending that time doing something either more productive or more enjoyable. Sometimes I could read a whole chapter of a book in the time it takes me to write out a recipe!

Once my daughter leaves in September, I’ll be able to take over her printer, which will definitely save paper and hopefully some time, although I do tend to re-arrange the page a few times before I’m happy with it. But what do I do in the meantime? Keep nagging her to print stuff out for me (every shopping list, to-do list, reminder list, menu plan, etc etc) or do I bite the bullet and try to accept imperfection?

If I can accept it in other areas of my life, surely it can’t be too difficult to adjust this one little bit of my life?

I’m gonna give it a try.

Sharon J

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The Financial Table Turns

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I was over at “Frugal Trenches” yesterday evening and read her daily tracking post. She’s doing really well but there was something she said that gave me a light bulb moment about how my own view of money has changed.

Earlier yesterday I’d been out shopping with Lise and Bjørn, first to buy some trackie bottoms for Paul, then to get kitten milk, and finally to do a bit of top-up shopping.

Because Paul’s a funny size, finding trackies that are both big enough in the waist but not too long in the leg, poses a bit of a problem. The only way I thought I could get round it would be to buy those that are the right waist size and take the legs up. What I hadn’t considered was that 9 out of 10 styles have either an elasticated ankle, a zip up the side of the bottom 6 inches or so or the logo goes right down to the bottom. All of those pose a problem. I could possibly sort out the elasticated bottomed ones by just cutting the bottom inch off before turning them up but the second problem was that the trousers that were big enough in the waist, also looked as if they were designed to house a bull’s arse rather than Paul’s almost non-existent one. And as for where the crutch would hang, well he’d need to be more than just well hung to fill that lot up! Quite honestly, if I put him in those, the chances are he’d look bloody ridiculous.

Once upon a time I would have bought them anyway. Just one pair for him to try and if they weren’t right, I’d donate them to charity (or have asked Mum too during the time Paul‘s been with her). This time, however, I phoned mum first and asked for her advice. Should I buy them or should I not? I knew he needed them but I really didn’t want to spend money unnecessarily if he wasn’t likely to wear them. Mum said “leave it”, she’s look down the market, and I actually felt relieved. We were only talking about ten quid but my view of spending ten pounds unnecessarily has changed considerably.

The kitten milk I was ok with. Five packs for £2 is more than worth it to keep my kitten happy and healthy. I did think 69p was a lot for just one, 40p each is closer to what I’d expect to pay so I was happy enough to part with my two quid.

The grocery shopping was the worse bit, though. By that time my stamina had run out and I was feeling so depleted that just getting out of the car was more than I wanted to do, let alone walk around Asda again. I gave Lise the money and a list and then sat in the car thinking about how much this was taking me over my budget. Having house guests is costing me more than I’d reckoned with and while I wouldn’t prefer them to go home than pay the extra, the fact that it wasn’t budgeted for was giving me cause for concern. Which credit card would have to go unpaid this month? I hadn’t reckoned with anything other than minimum payments this month because I knew I’d have extra expense but I hadn’t reckoned with missing a payment and then having extra fees bunged on, bringing my debt higher again.

My view towards spending has changed so much that when I came home today I felt almost guilty for spending so much whereas before I’d go on a proper spending spree and feel dead pleased with all the new stuff I’d bought… for about a day. Nowadays, knowing that I‘ve been able to stick to a tight budget leaves me feeling happier for far longer, whereas spending on something I ought to be able to do without makes me feel miserable.

How the tables turn.

Sharon J

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Monday, 21 July 2008

Fishing



For years I could regularly be found either by the sea, a lake or river, or in our boat, fishing rod in hand, waiting eagerly for ‘the bite’.

By regularly I mean at least once a week during summer, often more, but then fishing was so easy in Norway. No matter where you are, there’s always a lake, stream or river within easy hitting distance (cycling distance) and as the coast line’s long with fjords digging deep into the country, the sea’s usually not too far away either. You just sit on the rocks, and wait.

The peace and quite I felt whilst fishing was enormously good for me. I’d contemplate and theorise about all manner of things while I was surrounded by beautiful nature and didn’t care whether it rained or was late at night. As long as I was dressed properly, I was happy. Really happy.

Fishing can be such a simple pursuit and yet whenever I see anglers along the canal or at lakes here, they seem to be making such a big thing of it. They’re bogged down with all sorts of equipment (don’t ask me what they use it all for - I haven’t a clue) and in order to make a catch more likely, they’re stressing over which ground bait to use.

To me, fishing is a matter of a rod, a reel, a hook, some bait or a lure, and a box of extra line, hooks and other incidentals. A Y-twig to rest my rod on, should I need to leave it, is always good if I can find one but if I can’t, I’ll just make do.

Sometimes my partner and/or kids came with me and the children soon became almost just as keen as me although Paul, bless him, couldn't use a real hook because he didn't understand the danger and ended up with one firmly embedded in his hand. The photo at the top actually reminds me of Lise's first catch - that was a tiny perch, too.

Unlike most inland anglers here, what we caught was generally eaten. The only exceptions were young fish that would be thrown back in to hopefully be caught later once they’d grown or inedible fish that just happened to take the bait. Cod would be frozen down and used in fish cakes, fish pies, casseroles, or just eaten as fillets; trout would be grilled or barbequed the next day; and If we had too much fish for ourselves, we’d give some away to friends and family.

I really miss that kind of fishing so I’ve decided that next time I visit my family in Norway during summer, I’m going to buy myself some simple fishing equipment, take myself off somewhere early in the morning and fish until I feel ready to point my nose back towards ‘home‘. No rushing and nobody hassling me for something - just me and nature and complete relaxation.

I shall leave my gear over there so that I can fish every time I make a late spring/summer/early autumn visit. Ice fishing, I’m afraid, is off the agenda now. It was never as much fun anyway and now that I feel the cold so much, I don’t feel the least bit inclined to try again. I just hope I can still remember how to tie a knot!

Maybe one year I’ll hire a boat that we can all poodle around the fjord in, while I look for the places where nicely sized cod tend to gather, hoping for that exciting moment: ‘the bite’.

Sharon J

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Sunday, 20 July 2008

Shit Happens!



Let me tell you a story about a big bottom.

Before I got ill I was a size 18 with a more than ample backside. One day my then partner and I decided to take my daughter and her friend, the girl who went on to become what I call my ‘almost’ daughter, to a river up on the High Peak.

We had a lovely time up there. The sun was shining from a clear blue sky (remember those summers?) so we were all wearing light clothes. I was in a t-shirt and a pair of thin cotton shorts.

Being a naturally frugal person I kept my clothes for as long as I could and the shorts, I have to admit, had seen better days. But they were comfy and so easy to wear. And I loved the fact that they were a bright, cheerful orange.

On the way back to the car we had to climb over a style. Bjorn went over first, then it was my turn. I was mid-cock when I heard a distinct ripping sound and giggles from the girls behind me. Yes, you’ve got it. My shorts had called it a day. It was no little rip either - the seam had come apart from the crutch to the waistband. What’s more, I wasn’t wearing any knickers!

I’ve always like to go ‘au naturelle’ - I believe it’s good for us to let our bits breathe now and then - but this was one time I wished I hadn’t.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if it had only be the girls behind me but it wasn’t. To my horror there were two young men on the path behind us getting a full view of my full moon.

These days we look back at that episode and laugh. I mean, as much as it was embarrassing at the time, it was funny; it’s not every day you display your wobbly bum to strangers, after all.

There are lots more stories we look back and laugh about, most of which stem from mistakes that one of us made at the time. There’s the time I caught my foot in the seatbelt and fell out of the car; the time my mum thought she had a bomb in her bag and took it to her mother’s house instead of the police station; the time Lise and Linn Marie had nits but didn’t say anything because they “thought it was kind of like having pets in their hair”; and the time I went out with two un-matching shoes. The list really is endless. I’m sure your family has its own memories borne of mistakes, too.

The point with all this is that instead of beating ourselves up about mistakes and constantly striving to be perfect, we should embrace our imperfections and accept that making mistakes is the one thing that every human has in common. The perfect person doesn’t exist, so why strive to be one?

Last night more mistakes were made here. At the time a few people were upset but in the light of day we’ve be able to loosen up and see the funny side of them. No doubt in years to comes we’ll look back on them and laugh at what they’ve become - funny family stories.

How boring life would be if we didn’t have the colour that our mistakes splash onto the canvas.

Sharon J

PS: If you'd like to read more stories from my life, click here.

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The Frugal Freezer



No long intro - I haven’t the time. Here’s a list of food that can be frozen but often isn’t just because a lot people don’t actually know that it can be.

Onions - if you’re chopping an onion you may as well chop several and freeze the rest for later use in cooking. No good trying to eat them as fresh onions in salads and stuff, though.

Peppers - Slice ‘em up and freeze them. Again, only use them in cooking but even if you can’t use them like fresh peppers, it’s better than chucking them in the bin or even composting them, right?

Chillis - Can be frozen whole. No good for eating other than in sauces and the likes but who really wants to munch on them anyway?

Tomatoes - Past their best? Chop ‘em up, freeze and use later in spag bol and other tomato based sauces.

Potatoes - As far as I know (I could be wrong) you can’t freeze plain old boiled potatoes but you can freeze left over mash. Handy to use for making bubble and squeak.

Mushrooms - Slice and either fry in a little olive oil then freeze or freeze them raw. Can be chucked into a sauce or casserole while still frozen.

Tinned Veg - If you’ve opened a tin of veg but won’t be using it all up, freeze what’s left over to use another time.

Bread - If you just want a small loaf, it’s cheaper to buy a bigger one, split it and freeze half for later.

Cheese - Generally also cheaper when bought as a large block. Freezes well either whole or grated (although grated frozen cheese is best used in sauces and similar, rather than in salads).

Butter - Found your favourite butter on special offer? Buy several packs and freeze them. There’s no difference one thawed.

Wine - Freeze it in the ice-cube tray, pop them into bags then use to add to sauces and what-have-you.

There you go. Hopefully some of that was helpful.

Maybe you have some freezing tips to share?


Sharon J

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Saturday, 19 July 2008

Punching The Air



I know this isn’t going to seem like much of an achievement to some of you but those who know me will understand just how huge it was and why I had to share it.

On Thursday I walked all the way around Asda!

I didn’t do my big shop - I’m not that strong - just bought a few top-up bits and pieces that I’d normally have to send somebody else out to get for me. LM carried the basket until it got too heavy then Lise’s boyfriend took over. Lise and Bjorn had a tendency to wander off on their own - it was all new and exciting for him, who’d never been to England before, let alone inside an English supermarket - but LM stayed resolutely by my side in case I flagged or became ill and then found the check out with the shortest queue for me.

When I got back outside and into the car, I felt like punching the air. A couple of months ago I was starting to think I’d never be able to do anything ‘normal’ again but every achievement along the way has given me renewed faith in myself. I can and I will live a life outside of these four walls!

Admittedly, my legs hurt like nobody’s business that night but as they say, no gain without pain and the more I do these things, the easier it will become. I just have to remind myself not to push too hard - one step at a time and I’ll get there in the end.

Sharon J

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Cheap & Cheerful Holidays



A lot of you will probably already have booked your summer holiday but I know a lot of us frugal folks tend to wait until the last minute because let’s face it, it’s generally cheaper that way.

Unless you insist on 5 star luxury in far flung places, you’ll hopefully find a few ideas here that will appeal to you. Some I’ve tried, others I haven’t, but they all have one thing in common: they give us a chance to have a good time on a shoe string.

Share The Cost – Take a holiday with another family or couple and split the cost. That way you can either save yourself half of what you’d normally spend on accommodation or you can upgrade for the same price. I’ve personally tried both versions and they’ve generally worked out well. It is important that you know the other family well enough to be sure you’d enjoy a whole week of each others’ company.

Visit Friends or Family – If there’s somebody you haven’t seen for a while and you know they have room, why not visit them for a few days? My daughter often nips over to Norway and stays with one of my close friends for a week or two. She enjoys the company of her two teenage sons and my friend likes having her there. All it costs is the price of a flight, some pocket money and a bit towards her food. Be warned though, staying for any longer than a week can often mean you’re outstaying your welcome.

Go Camping – Once you have the equipment you need (an remember that word need – equipment suppliers will try to convince you to buy all sorts of unnecessary bits and pieces), camping is without doubt the cheapest way of getting a holiday. In the UK you’ll generally have to pitch your tent at dedicated sites although this isn’t always the case in Europe so if you’re going abroad, check local regulations. For more information about camping, you might want to take a look at this post.

Beg, Steal or Borrow – Well, maybe not steal but if you know somebody who has a caravan or holiday home or even an apartment they rarely use, why not ask if you could hire it for a reasonable figure? An apartment in the city may not be the ideal holiday for those with young children but for a couple with teenagers or no kids at all, it could be an interesting alternative. After all, holidays aren’t just about lazing on the beach. One of the best holidays I’ve had was with one of my teenage daughters, exploring London as tourists for a week.

Book Last Minute Accommodation – I received an email yesterday from a guy I once hired a caravan from. His usual rate for this time of year is £700 a week but as he had a few empty weeks he wanted filling, he was offering it for £450. A saving of £250 could mean the difference between “yes, we can afford a holiday” and “no, forget it”. When Richard and I visited Marracech (Morocco) we booked a last minute flight and hotel deal. We ended up spending 4 nights in a 5 star hotel (very cushty, I must say) for less money than 4 nights in the same hotel without flights would normally have cost.

Barter - I’ve heard that it’s perfectly ok to barter with B&B owners that still have rooms available because many would rather earn less than have the room stand empty. I haven’t had the nerve to try this one, though.

Travel Off Peak – Not always possible if you have school age children but for those who can, travelling out of season can shave tens or even hundreds of pounds off the price.

Volunteer – While there are few volunteering opportunities for families with young children, finding something we can do to help others and get away from home at the same time shouldn’t be too difficult for the rest of us. Take a look at this list for some ideas.

And finally, Steer Clear of Money Suckers! By that I mean don’t head to the kind of places that are likely to seduce you into spending more than you'd budgeted for. Huge holiday complexes like Butlins, resorts such as Blackpool and cities like London are all going to cost you a lot of money if you’re to make the most of them. And who wants to hear the kids saying “can I have one of those... these... that...” for a whole week. If the temptations aren’t there, you’re less likely to overspend. And I haven’t even mentioned the ‘joys’ of endless queuing.

If you’re going away this year, I hope you enjoy every minute of it. I’ll be off to Norway for 4 nights in September. I’m staying with my daughter so it won’t cost too much.

Sharon J

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Friday, 18 July 2008

Six Months On



It’s now six months since I wrote my very first post here after deciding that I wanted to get serious about simplifying my life again.

In those six months I’ve either learned or been reminded that:

…I’d started to forget just how good it feels to live simply because, although I never became a full member of the ‘must have brigade’, during recent years I’d started to become increasingly consumer oriented.

…sometimes it can be difficult to resist the urge to spend money but I can keep it at bay by reminding myself that all this consumer madness isn’t do either me or the rest of the earth’s population any good.

…somebody has to buy new stuff in order for their to be used stuff available so there’s no point in pointing a finger at those who do.

…buying things just because we want them isn‘t good for us. We lose our sense of value and just end up wanting more stuff.

...that, having said the above, sometimes what appear to be 'wants' can actually be 'needs'. The soul needs feeding too, after all.

…we can never have everything we want. No matter how much we buy, there will always be something else that’s bigger and better that we'll want.

...wants and needs are two entirely different things.

…when we make do with what we have, we learn to value those things more.

…to be more aware of the kind of food I give my children and guests. Variety is key to getting the right amount of nutrients.

…when I’m doing housework, I'm happier using eco-friendly, household products rather than damaging commercial detergents and cleaners.

…walking my dog along the canal towpath gives me far more pleasure than a trip to a shopping centre.

...that while eating out is good, preparing and eating a meal at home can be just as good especially when the meal's appreciated by those you cook for.

…even though I love the scents and sights of a travelling funfair, I don’t need to have a burger and a stick of candyfloss to enjoy it.

…just because I’m pushing fifty doesn’t mean I have to own loads of stuff in order to appear ‘successful’. True success is living the life that you’re happy with yourself.

…other people’s views of my lifestyle are totally irrelevant.

…what remains of my health is important to me so I really must stop smoking.

…the more I learn about green issues, the more I want to do my bit for the environment.

...I'm more in touch with my spiritual side when I'm not weighed down by 'stuff'.

…I am neither happy nor comfortable in the company of materialistic people.

…clutter does my head in. Even though I’m to blame for most of the clutter in this house, it stresses me something awful.

…a place for everything and everything in its place really does make life easier.

...while there should always be a place for spontaneity, certain areas of life are easier with proper organisation.

…paying off my debts and seeing my savings grow makes me feel far more secure than spending money I didn’t have ever did.

…there are actually more notches on the belt than I’d thought there were.


Sharon J

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Thursday, 17 July 2008

Young People




I’ve been reading up a bit about money usage amongst the population of the UK and one thing that surprised me was that 16-20 year olds are apparently the group that generally save the most, both in terms of the percentage of their incomes they save and the percentage of the group that are actually using savings accounts actively, even if it's just to put in a little each week.

There’s hardly a day passes where I don’t either hear or read something detrimental about our young people: they’re all a bunch of layabouts with no manners, no respect for others or their property, no care for the future, and no willingness to learn responsibility. I hate listening to that kind of thing because while some youth do fit those categories, it certainly doesn’t apply to all. There are a lot of fantastic young people out there and although some of the friends my daughter brings to the house could do with getting their arses into gear and actually doing something, most are wonderful kids who I love chatting with.

Now when you think that approximately sixty percent of young people are in some form of higher education, for them to be the largest group of savers, a lot of them must be working part-time (I know almost all of my daughter’s friends do). That hardly makes them useless layabouts does it?

And as for responsibility, aren’t they showing that they ARE being responsible by saving? My daughter has refused point blank to get a credit card because she knows she won’t be able to handle it sensibly just yet - the temptation to spend what she doesn’t have would just be too great. Isn’t that showing responsibility? And she isn’t the only one; several of her friends have said the same. Unfortunately, one has gone mad with her credit card and doesn’t understand that the minimum payment is designed to keep her in debt for a very long time but there will always be some.

Also, if the figures are correct and more than half of our young people are either attending college or university, doesn’t that show that they’re they do indeed care about their future? Amongst those I know, most are now preparing to head off to uni after finishing their college courses, one's taking a gap year to do voluntary work somewhere in Asia and LM's off to Norway to rediscover her roots. Only one failed her course and is now kicking her heels (yes, that'd be the same one as has the credit card).

Yes, my daughter and her friends go out on the piss now and then, only to roll in legless at stupid o'clock but LM's never taken her car when she's gone drinking and neither do most of her friends. To my knowledge they've never caused anybody any trouble through seriously inconsiderate behaviour either. And aren't we just a little inconsiderate at times, anyway?

Not all kids hang out on street corners, carry knives, steal or find pleasure through defacing other people's property and although there are some who will never contribute anything worthwhile to society, we really shouldn’t put them all over the same barrel. Sadly, they’re the ones that make the news and the ones that get noticed the most but I really think there's more good amongst young people than they're generally given credit for.

I personally love the company of youths and they seem to enjoy coming to our house so I guess it’s mutual. I certainly hope so, anyway. I shall miss that once Linn Marie leaves, but life goes on and a new chapter starts.

Sharon J

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Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Fruit & Veg Doesn’t Have To Be Fresh



I’ve just been looking at the British Nutrition Foundation’s website and read something that I found particularly interesting.

These days there’s a lot of talk about how we should all be eating fresh veg straight from the farmer’s field or, preferably, from our gardens, but for me it isn’t always that easy. My energy levels are often very low, my legs hurt when I stand for longer than a few minutes and although I can make some meals from scratch, I do depend on quick alternatives. By that I mean canned, frozen and dried foods.

Because of the stigma attached to canned and ready frozen veg these days, I feel almost embarrassed to admit that I use them - some people look at me as if I’m some kind of delinquent that’s just dropped from the top of a monkey puzzle tree. But when you can’t keep up with the ‘healthy’ alternative, what’s a girl to do? Go without?

Anyway, it turns out that fresh veg is no better for us than the pre-prepared stuff anyway so I’d been beating myself up for not giving my daughter the best kind of food available when there was really no need. Processed marrowfat peas are actually just as nutritious as fresh peas and if I put tinned apples in my pie, it doesn’t really matter although it's always best to avoid those that contain artificial colouring, flavouring and the likes.

What does matter is the salt content so if you’re like me and use canned alternatives to supplement the fresh stuff (or even instead of), it’s important you choose vegetables that are canned in water with no added salt. Too much salt really isn’t good for us and according to the Department of Health & Food Standard Agency, the average person gets more than enough without having to add any to their food at all.

When it comes to canned fruit, try to avoid anything that’s canned in syrup, choosing those canned in juice instead because syrup has a much higher sugar content and that’s another no-no if you’re serious about healthy eating.

I don’t personally care for them but even baked beans count towards your five a day. Beans can only be counted once though, regardless of how many times you eat them or how many varieties. The same goes for fruit drinks so even if you drink juice with breakfast, a smoothie at lunchtime and a glass of squash in the evening, you’ll still only have had one portion.

Of course, there's always the argument regarding the amounts of resources used when vegetables are canned, the carbon miles travelled and so forth but looking at those issues too would be overkill in one blog post. Maybe I'll come back to it later. Assuming I remember, that is.

Even though I don’t need my 5-a-day because of the TPN and my bowel’s lack of ability to absorb nutrients, I still feel it’s better somehow to get them and I certainly want my kids and guests to be getting them while they’re here.

Sharon J

PS: It’s worth a gander at the BNF website, there’s loads of useful information there.

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Tuesday, 15 July 2008

I'm So Excited...


Lise

My daughter arrives today. Yippee!

She lives in Norway and has been back and forth – through choice – between her father and me since she was twelve. She’s now 22 and seems to have settled out there for good. It’s where she was born, where she spent the first eleven years of her life, and where half of her family are. She is, without a doubt, more Norwegian than English.

I miss her, there’s no denying that, but I’m also glad that she’s living out there because the lifestyle is so much better than what we have here. Maybe it wouldn’t be so marked if we were living elsewhere in the UK, but right here there’s not much to compare to what she has. Clean air, miles upon miles of open spaces that aren’t farmed so can be used for recreational purposes, lakes galore, beautiful mountains, breathtaking fjords... it’s such an unspoilt country in so many ways, unlike our densely (overpopulated?) island. And the people are generally nice, too.

But still I’m a mum and mums miss their daughters so you can imagine how excited I am to be seeing her later. She doesn’t land until nearly half past eleven tonight though, so I have a whole day to get through first. Richard and I have already made my bedroom look half decent for her, as much as it can with the state of the decor anyway, but I'll put some fresh flowers in there to brighten it up. I've been relegated to Paul's temporarily vacated room. Then I'll try to find some other stuff to do to help pass the time away. I can’t be too energetic though of I’ll flag later and won’t be able to drive all the way to Birmingham and back. I must keep reminding myself to slow down. I have the top of the fridge to declutter and clean though, so at least that's something to do.

Lise’s bringing her new boyfriend with her too, hence me moving out of my bedroom for a fortnight. Apparently he’s very nervous about meeting 'the mother' and knowing his reasons, I can understand. But I don’t bite and I don’t judge people by their skin, clothes, hair or anything else superficial. It’s what’s inside him that will matter and from what Lise has said, he’s pretty good to her.

I’ll still be blogging while she’s here because I generally do that early in the morning anyway, but I’m sure you’ll understand if I don’t visit other blogs as often as I usually do. I'll try to pop in now and then though.

Have a lovely day.

Sharon J x

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Monday, 14 July 2008

Feeling Chuffed



I’m really pleased with myself this week. Not in a smug kind of way, rather a ‘punch the air and shout YESSSS!’ kind of way. In fact, I haven’t felt so chuffed for quite a while.

This week I’ve finished decluttering the big cupboard and turned it into a pantry, sorted all the stuff that came out of the big cupboard, found new, albeit temporary homes for some, freecycled some, donated some, and chucked some. The kitchen is once again reasonably clean and tidy (floor NEVER looks clean - tidy is something belonging to the future as I have way too few cupboards) and the table’s clear again. We may even be able to eat off of it! Weyhey!

I’ve also decluttered and cleaned Paul’s room. I shall be using it while Lise and her boyfriend are visiting and as it had been used pretty much as a storage room while Paul’s been away at Mum’s, drastic measures were needed. Needless to say, a lot of ‘crap’ had to go. And even though it’s in dire need of decorating and the carpet’s foul, I’ve also made my own bedroom look at least a bit more welcoming. Tomorrow I shall pick flowers in the garden to put in there ready for their arrival. Fresh flowers can make such a difference, don’t you think?

I’ve taken a trip to the recycling centre and made a couple of my own meals, even though Richard - who’s my official carer - has been here to do it for me. I’ve swept floors, done the dishes and tidied the living room. I’ve got my accounts back in order and listed everything that’s in the pantry. The freezer will be sorted and listed later today.

Now I realise none of this will appear to be much of an achievement to most but it’s no more than a month and a half ago that I was so weak I couldn’t even stand for more than a minute and even that caused me tremendous pain. I had no stamina at all and was falling asleep at the drop of a hat. From that to what I’ve managed this week has been such a huge step that I feel as if I’ve just won the London Marathon.

Admittedly, Richard has helped with the heavy stuff (thank you, Richard. I couldn‘t have done it without you) as I just don’t have the muscle strength to do everything for myself, but even so…

Every step along the way has let me see the proverbial light a little clearer until this point, where it’s shining big and bright and I know that one day I’ll emerge feeling more like the Sharon of two years ago again.

I’ll always have days where my energy’s low and nothing will get done, but those days will eventually become fewer and life will be easier.

I’m feeling happy and contented and I wouldn’t swap this feeling for all the tea in China.

Sharon J

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Sunday, 13 July 2008

A Box For ‘Toileting’ In


Richard told me about this product earlier and as it links in nicely with my previous post, I just had to share it with you.

Reading about it had me in absolute fits but it’s for real and to be honest, if I were going camping and thought I might get ‘caught short’, I’d take one with me.

Do read the whole site and study the graphics - it’s worth it if only for the laugh.

Here it is: the revolutionary Shit Box

Sharon J

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All Feet To The Pole



Once upon a time our family used to go camping. We didn’t have a fancy tent with lots of rooms in it or anything, just two simple dome tents, one for me, my other half (at the time), Paul and one dog, the other for the girls and dog number two. There wasn’t much room to store anything so most of our stuff stayed in the back of the car and food was prepared and eaten al fresco. If it rained we’d find a café to have a meal in but generally we managed without spending very much money at all.

They were simple holidays and weekends away but we enjoyed them; we had no desire to jump on a plane and fly off to some foreign place that would end up costing an arm and a leg. We were happy and contented with what we had.

Sometimes we’d stay at campsites where the kids would get to know other children and spend all day playing before zipping themselves exhausted into the sleeping bags at night. Other times we’d just pitch the tents in some remote spot and spend the time exploring the area with the kids, fishing with them, making food over a real campfire and, perhaps most importantly, letting them use their imaginations. They’d make boats out of twigs and leaves that they'd sail on a lake or river and pine cones and twigs became animals that were use to act out stories they’d make up. They learned to put the tents up, gut fish and prepare them to cook for our evening meal, to recognise animal foot prints and the different birds, how to dig out an earth toilet and fill it in and cover it after use and how to safely use a knife to make pointy sticks for cooking sausages over the fire.

Sure, they may have learned a bit about different cultures if we’d chosen to go further afield, but it would have cost us huge amounts of money that we used on other things instead. And if I’m honest, I doubt they would have learned anywhere near as much. Maybe how to say “can you move that towel?” in German or “A burger and chips, please” in Spanish but not much more. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t regret the choice we made and neither do the children. Neither of them feel they missed out on anything but they all say they gained a lot. The one holiday we took in Majorca certainly didn't leave us with anywhere near as many good memories as a week in a tent always did.

Only once have we experienced such extreme rain that the tents leaked. Believe me, they really did leak that time, though. But hey… you take the rough with the smooth, eh? Things can go wrong on any holiday. If you want to know more about that particular experience, you can read about it here. Looking back, it was actually very funny.

If you’ve never tried camping and know somebody who has equipment you can borrow, I’d definitely suggest giving it a go. You may well be surprised at how much you enjoy it and it’s certainly a cheap way of getting away from it all. Getting back to basics is good for the soul and if you decide that it isn’t for you, you won’t have lost much. Just a couple of days, whatever it costs to get to the camping site and the pitch fee. Hardly much to get upset about. And in these days of tightening the belt it's gotta be worth giving it a try.

Should you be worried about toilet facilities - and I know some people are - most campsites have modern loos and shower blocks. In fact, I believe they have to have them these days, although I wouldn't swear to that. If you have a large tent it's possible to use a chemical toilet although I know some people don't even like the idea of that so won't even 'go' in a touring caravan let alone a tent, but each to their own.

Unfortunately, camping isn’t easy for me anymore. As much as I hate it, things have to be planned more these days. Large amounts of medical supplies have to go everywhere with me (and believe me, we’re not talking a couple of packs of pills here), and I have to be able to attach myself to a pump at night. I can, however, manage one night without most of the meds or the pump so I’ve decided that it won’t beat me - once I’m strong enough the camping equipment is coming out of the loft and I shall be off. I have a couple of friends who have said they’ll come with me (Richard doesn’t do camping) so there shouldn’t be a problem.

I also have a charger for my pump that can be plugged into the car, so once I’ve tried one night, I might even go for two.

As they say, “there’s no such thing as a problem, just a challenge” and I intend to take up the challenge. I love camping too much to give it up completely. It’s been too long already.

One step at a time, though.

Sharon J x

To find campsites in the area you’d like to visit, see UK Campsites


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Saturday, 12 July 2008

Change Doesn't Happen Overnight



When I decided that enough was enough and that I no longer wanted to be part of the mass-consumer society, I expected changing back to a simpler, greener lifestyle to be easier than it has been. It sounded easy enough, after all: you just stop spending on unnecessary ‘wants’ and look for alternative, less eco-damaging ways to get hold of what you need in order to go about your life in a comfortable and contented manner. That, at least, was my basis.

But changing back to a simpler lifestyle hasn’t been, and still isn’t, easy even though I know finding simplicity has probably been easier on me than it has on some because I at least had some experience of it from a previous period of my life; a period that lasted much longer than my ‘want to have and sod the consequences‘ period. Also, a simple lifestyle was still embedded in me so I was never entirely comfortable in that role but even so, it’s sometimes difficult not to succumb to my unnecessary ‘wants’ and I often have to ask myself whether something will really be useful or whether it’s beautiful enough for me to enjoy looking at every day. If it isn’t, I leave it alone.

Change of any kind is a gradual process so we can't expect something as huge as a lifestyle change to happen overnight. I still throw some stuff in the landfill bin rather than take it to the recycling centre; I just don’t have the room to store things at the moment and driving to the ‘dump’ for the sake of recycling one thing isn’t particularly ‘eco-effective’. I need to sort out the bin cupboard and get some shelves put up for storage, but I can’t get everything done at once so in the meantime I do what I can. Nobody can be expected to do everything at once, although for some these things take longer than for others.

I also need to get my compost bin moved if it’s going to be of any use because I can’t keep walking the length of the garden every time I need to use it but moving it’s part of the long-term plan. Until then I’ll just have to feed what I can to the worms and dump the rest.

There are plenty of other examples but I won’t bore you with more. I’m sure you get the gist.

Sometimes I still buy the cheaper alternative rather than saving for something of better quality that'll be more durable and probably hasn't been manufactured in an Asian sweatshop but only when I really need something now making it impossible to save for and since I don't have much disposable income after the bills, food & debts are paid, I can't just go out and buy good quality stuff without budgeting and saving for it first. I refuse to buy on credit anymore so that isn't an option either. However, I do save for what I can and won't buy cheap goods unless I really have to - I'd rather have second hand, quality stuff than support the destruction of our planet and the exploitation of those less fortunate than ourselves. Not that expensive always means good quality, but good quality rarely comes cheap.

The point is, I think we often put unnecessary pressure on ourselves to live simply and be green. We beat ourselves up over the things we’re not doing rather than patting ourselves on the back for the those that we are. That’s kind of understandable too, because the majority still don’t really understand our lifestyle choices and are often unsupportive of it. We live in a society where only 'going the whole hog' is acceptable, regardless of what we choose.

Several people have pointed out to me what I’m not doing in a way that implies that if I'm not doing it all, I'm not really serious. Others have told me I’m wasting my life when I should be “having fun and enjoying myself” (they obviously have a very blinkered view of what constitutes 'enjoying oneself') and I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had to listen to people tell me about what they've been buying. The sum of all this is that while I generally don't care what others think and am glad I'm not part of the consumer madness anymore, when I’m having an ‘off day’, I feel as if maybe I’m not doing as well as I should, and sometimes I still envy others their ‘stuff’. Luckily, those days are few and far between and as time passes they become more seldom and far easier to deal with.

Everybody who wants to find simplicity in their lives while doing what they can to preserve our beautiful planet has to do it at their own pace and in whatever way is right for them. There’s no rule book and the ‘green police’ aren’t going to break our doors down and arrest us for not wearing our clothes until they fall to pieces or having a super-sized compost bin. And succumbing to the occasional ‘want’ isn’t such a bad thing, it's just a matter of knowing which 'wants' can be indulged and which shouldn't.

I know I still have a long way to go before I’ll be satisfied with my lifestyle, but for every change I make I find myself feeling more contented so it’s definitely working.

And in all honesty, would you really want to get the point where there's nothing left to improve, and nothing left to learn?

Sharon J

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